18 Prayers to Pray for Unbelievers

From Tim Challies:

A friend asked the question: How do I pray for unbelievers? How do I pray effectively? I trust that every Christian regularly prays for family or friends or colleagues or neighbors who do not yet know the Lord. And while we can and must pray for matters related to their lives and circumstances, the emphasis of our prayers must always be for their salvation. Here are some ways the Bible can guide our prayers.

Prayers for Salvation

We begin with prayers for salvation. Each of these prayers seeks the same thing, but in a different way or from a different angle or using different language. Each of them is grounded in a specific text of Scripture.

Pray that God would circumcise their hearts. Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of entering into God’s covenant, of being God’s people. To have a circumcised heart symbolizes having a heart that is fully joined to God, fully submissive to him. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Pray that God would give them a heart of flesh. The Bible contrasts a heart of flesh, a heart that is alive and responsive to God, to a heart of stone, a heart that is cold and unyielding. Pray that God would work within these unbelievers to change their hearts. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19).

Pray that God would put his Spirit within them. The great joy of salvation is being indwelled by God himself. Pray that God would grant this honor to those unbelievers, that he would choose to take up residence within them. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

Pray that they would come to Christ. If unbelievers are to come to salvation, there is just one way. They must come through Christ and Christ alone. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Remember, too, that he is the one who calls them to come and to be relieved of the burden of their sin (see Matthew 11:28-30).

Pray that God would open their hearts to believe the gospel. Once more, God must initiate and people must respond. So pray that God would open the hearts of these unbelievers so they can in turn believe, just as Lydia did. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).

Pray that God would free them from the slavery of sin. Unbelievers may believe they are free, but they are in fact enslaved. They are slaves of sin, bound by their sin and sinfulness. Pray that God would liberate them by his gospel. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).

Pray that God would remove Satan’s blinding influence . Unbelievers have been blinded by Satan and will only ever be able to see and appreciate the gospel if God works within them. So pray that God would give them sight—spiritual sight. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Pray that God would grant them repentance. Unbelievers cannot repent without the enabling grace of God. So pray that God would grant them repentance, that this repentance would lead them to a knowledge of the truth. Pray as well that they would come to their senses and that they would escape from the devil’s snare. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

Prayers For You

You have prayed for unbelievers using different words and approaching from different angles. But you should also pray for yourself.

Pray that you will develop relationship with them. For people to be saved they must first hear the good news of the gospel. For them to hear the good news of the gospel, they must first encounter Christians—Christians like you. Pray that you would develop deeper, more significant relationship with them so you can, in turn, speak truth. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

Pray for opportunities to minister to them. Many people come to faith after seeing Christ’s loved displayed through the ministry of Christians. Pray for opportunities to minister to unbelievers so that your ministry can have an evangelistic effect. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Pray for them faithfully and persistently. Our temptation is to grow discouraged in prayer, to pray for a while and, when we see no visible results, to give up. But God calls us to persevere in prayer. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). (See also the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8.)

Pray for a burden to plead for their souls. Paul was willing to tell the church at Rome of his great longing to see the salvation of the lost. Do you share this deep longing? Pray that God would give you a great burden for souls. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).

Pray for boldness in generating and taking opportunities to speak the gospel. Even Paul longed for this boldness and for the confidence that he was speaking the right and best words. Pray that God would give you the boldness and, that when you take the opportunities, that he would then guide your words. “[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19).

Pray for other believers to encounter them. God almost always uses a succession of people to share the gospel with people before they are saved. Pray, then, that God would lead other Christians into the lives of the unbelievers you love, that they too would provide an example of Christian living and that they too would speak the gospel. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Other Prayers

Here are a few more biblical emphases to guide your prayers.

Pray that God would use any circumstance to do his work in them. We pray to a God who is sovereign and who sovereignly works his good will. Often he saves people through difficult circumstances, through bringing them to the very end of themselves. Pray, then, that God would arrange circumstances, whether easy or difficult, to lead them to salvation. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67). As you pray for the unbelievers you love, always pray to God: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Pray that God would extend his mercy to them. God assures us that he wishes for all people to turn to him in repentance and faith. He receives no joy from seeing people perish. Pray, then, that God would be glorified in the salvation of these people. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Pray with confidence. Finally, pray with confidence. God expects we will pray, God invites us to pray, God commands us to pray. Why? Because God loves to hear us pray and God loves to respond to our prayers. So as you pray for unbelievers, pray with confidence that God hears your prayers. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

Gardening & Harvesting

I love to garden.

I love preparing the soil, planting the seed or plant, tending the soil around the the plant to produce healthy growth, pruning, harvesting, preserving the produce for the year to come, and of course eating it fresh off the vine. Believe it or not, I even enjoy weeding. Because no one enjoys weeding, it has become a place of quiet reflection for me. Everyone enjoys the harvest but it’s really gardening that has become a joy for me. 

It wasn’t until I was recently engaged in conversation about the Gospel that this metaphor of gardening and harvesting really came to life for me. I was asking questions of the person who was clearly disagreeing with the message of the Gospel when someone asked me if I had been reading “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions” by Greg Koukl. 

I had not been, but upon his recommendation I picked up a copy and began learning how to better engage with people who have a differing opinion than mine; especially in matters of faith. But it’s not so much the “tactics” that have stood out to me up to this point so much as Koukl’s approach to Gospel-conversation as a whole. He likened his approach of sharing his faith to gardening vs. harvesting. 

The Harvest is easy to understand. You share the Gospel, God does a supernatural work in that person causing them to be born-again, they confess Christ, turn from their former way of life and follow Jesus. In essence, you’ve just harvested, you’ve picked the ripe fruit, and it seemed easy—some have called it “low hanging fruit” before. If you are a gospel-sharer, more than likely you have picked some low hanging fruit. You didn’t prepare the soil, plant the seed, tend the soil, weed the garder, prune or fertilize, someone else did; you simply plucked the juicy, sun-ripened, vibrantly red tomato from the vine. Rejoice! What a joy! 

The Gardening, however easy it is to understand, is not so easy to do. Gardening is hard. Sometimes the soil is hardened by a lack of rain and doesn’t easily work up. Sometimes the soil is soggy due to an oversaturation and is equally difficult to work. Still, someone needs to work the soil, plant the seed, weed out that which hinders growth and steals nutrients, and the labor is long & tiresome. It is necessary work and if there is to be a harvest in the future, often many gardeners have labored over this one “plant.” 

In these times, there is still no promise of a harvest at all. Perhaps the rains will drown out the whole garden. Perhaps drought or the neighborhood dog will decimate the well-teneded garden. Perhaps, locusts devour and destroy or plant disease comes through and depletes the health of the plant until all it can do is grow, never producing fruit. 

Gardening is hard work. And if we think of gardening and harvesting as a metaphor in evangelism, there is much more time invested in gardening than in harvesting. The harvest happens quickly and often times not by the gardener. Are you content with being God’s gardener? Are you “swinging for the fences” (how’s that for mixing metaphors) every time you talk with someone whether it’s forced & awkward or not? 

Koukl’s approach to gardening and harvesting is that most of the gospel conversations he will ever engage in are gardening conversations. After all, it is Jehovah who is “the Lord of the harvest”, is He not? Sometimes in “gardening,” well meaning Christians rush to the thrust of the Gospel hoping to reap a harvest when the “young plant” is still in its germination or even before the soil has been tilled. This is not to say, “You shouldn’t share Christ with people too quickly” but “We should inquisitively discover where this person is in the gardening process so as to have a better understanding of our role in God’s process.” 

I know I’m guilty of forcing the meat of the Gospel into a converstation where it doesn’t naturally fit in an effort to “do what I’m supposed to do.” If I’m honest, that’s never resulted in anyone converting or following up with “Hmmm, tell me more.” It almost always (and maybe always) ended the conversation. It’s like harvesting the bloom hoping the little yellow flower tastes like a well-tended, sun-ripened tomato. 

God is sovereign over salvation, I’m not suggesting otherwise. I also know that if I were more attentive & inquisitive, I could be of more use to Him as He draws those to Himself from whom He has chosen to reap a harvest.

Is Robust Theology for Blue-Collar Christians?

I pastor a predominantly blue collar church. Many in my congregation don’t have a bachelor’s degree. These are the kind of people I love. I grew up in a blue collar home and loved my childhood (my dad is a carpenter and my mom is an RN). That being said, the Bible is chock-full of rich theological concepts and terminology that often require serious study. One doesn’t have to read very far into the New Testament to encounter words like propitiation, predestination, regeneration, and justification. These and many other five syllable words shouldn’t be glossed over and are central to understanding our salvation. Then you’ve also got issues like the difference between Israel and the church and the struggle between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Do blue collar Christians who work in the trades and spend their lives around common people really need this sort of robust theology? Should their pastors be more mission-driven and less doctrine-driven? Here are a few reasons why I think robust theology is indeed vital for all believers, including the blue-collar working class.

Paul was a blue collar worker himself

Oftentimes when we think of biblical texts that are doctrine-heavy, we think of Paul’s epistles. Even Peter said this of Paul’s writings: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). But we have to remember that Paul and the other New Testament authors were not theologians sitting in some ivory tower. They were blue collar workers. Paul was not just some talking head. He traveled throughout the known world preaching, planting churches, and getting persecuted. Sure Paul spent decades of his early life studying the text of Scripture in the tradition of the Pharisees, but his life was totally transformed the day Christ met him. He went from persecuting Christians to preaching their Christ. He even took up a common job that would help him carry this amazing Gospel to everyday people around the world. He worked with his hands, plying the trade of a tent maker (Acts 18:1-3). He spent much of his time gathering leather and other materials to sew and construct livable dwellings. He instructed fellow pastors like this: “I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…” (Acts 20:35). When he discovered idle church members at Thessalonica, he wrote this: “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).

Also, we all need the theology of God’s Word because…

Paul’s letters were written for blue collar church members

Some may say, “Okay so maybe Paul was a hard working man, but 21st Century, working class Christians don’t need to understand all he wrote. They just need to love Jesus and live for Him.” Such reasoning sounds logical, but it is actually very arrogant and even dangerous. If we claim that Christians don’t need to understand Paul’s writings, we’re rejecting the Bible’s authority. Why? Because 2 Timothy 3:16 informs us (also Paul’s writings) that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” God’s Word (and Paul) says that every word contained within is vital for our well-being. Most of the New Testament was written to actual churches and people, and most of them were for the blue collar type. Some argue for biblical illiteracy by saying they don’t know how to read at all, but I find this argument also has its flaws. God has revealed Himself in a book and books require the ability to read. A person who is truly born-again by God will so long to know God that if they don’t know how to read, they will get educated to do so. One godly man I know came to Christ while working on the railroad. He only had a third grade education and never even learned to read. Steve so longed to know the God who spoke in His Word that he humbled himself and had his wife teach him how to read. He told me this was so hard, but it was well worth it. His Bible is now marked up and underlined as he wakes each morning to study it.

Another reason the Bible’s rich theology is for blue collar people is that…

Theology drives mission

I recently listened to a podcast where a pastor in my home state discussed how he revitalized his church. I was intrigued until I heard his story a little more. He said this blue collar church was in serious decline and said the former pastor’s theological ministry stunted the church’s “growth.” He then went on to say that numbers are now high since he has shifted the church’s focus to reaching outsiders. His church is now very doctrine light and I wonder if his sheep will truly grow or if they’ll survive on a meager diet under him. On the one hand, I am grateful this pastor is leading his people to reach the lost, as sadly many churches do not evangelize as they ought. But it is a major mistake to say mission must take a backseat to theology. Doctrine drives worship and mission, not the other way around. Any church that isn’t doing mission well is probably confused on their theology anyway. Our understanding of man’s total depravity, for instance, will shape how we reach out to them. Passing out water bottles is great, but if faith comes by hearing, we must share Christ with them. Our understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation also directly affects our witness. If we believe our evangelistic fervor is what saves, we’ll become boastful or discouraged or even negligent when we don’t see many saved. Also our understanding of the Gospel has a huge impact on our witness. If we get the Gospel message wrong and have a man-centered gospel, we won’t truly be ambassadors for God and people won’t truly be reconciled to Him through our message. 

So may none of us shy away from the hard, but glorious truths in our Bibles. May we not boast in our ignorance. God gave us a brain and He gave us words and truths to study. He did not waste a single word and so we as God’s people, blue collar and white collar, must be diligent to study it to better know and love Him.

Kanye & Christianity

Just for the record, I know absolutely nothing about Kanye West except for some headlines from news sites over the last 15 years that made glad I knew nothing about Kanye West. I took the recent headlines about Kanye “finding Christ” with the same attitude.

But…I couldn’t resist. I clicked and got sucked into that vortex where time stands still, the Internet, and before I knew it, I was watching Kim Kardashian on the View. (These are all words I never even dreamed I would be saying/writing/thinking…)

If you know me at all (I know, most of you don’t), you are probably as surprised at reading this as I am writing it…Me, Kanye, Christian, Watching the View, and anything Kim Kardashian don’t fit in the same sentence.

I’m a 40 year old pastor in a farming community of 200 in the middle of a rural county in Illinois with the population of a little over 13,000. What do I know about Kanye, Kim Kardashian, the View, Hip-hop, or celebrity culture? Nothing.

But I do know Jesus Christ. I know Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying preaching. And this is exactly what fell on my overwhelmingly surprised ears as I listened to the message that was preached at Kanye’s “Sunday Service” in Detroit on Sept. 30. To be honest, I prefer a different style of preaching. I prefer more Scripture. I prefer solid, exegetical, sequential expositional preaching that engages the intellect and the heart. I prefer John MacArthur, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Steven Lawson, and others like them. I prefer to read old, dead, Puritanesk, Reformed theologians that make much of Christ and lead me into worship as I reflect upon the glories of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But that’s not how Dr. Adam Tyson, professor of Biblical Counseling at Master’s Seminary, did it.

Pastor Adam just preached the Gospel (“just”); simply, profoundly, and completely. The Gospel.

Praise God! I took these quotes from foxnews.com (https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/kanye-west-sunday-service-california-pastor) before I watched him deliver the Gospel:

“My message is that God is holy, but we are all sinners and therefore deserve God’s judgment. God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised from the dead on the third day. The good news is that through repentance of your sin and faith in the risen Christ you can have true joy and happiness which is found only in Jesus.”

“It feels like half the crowd comes because they are Kanye fans, but we want them to leave knowing Jesus Christ,” Tyson said. “We want them to know that there is something better than what the world offers. The answer is found in Jesus, in knowing Him, loving Him, and walking in obedience to Him.”

You may be as skeptical as I was (am) about what’s going on with “Sunday Service” and Kanye, but take 12 minutes out of your day and listen to Pastor Adam for yourself. You can click the link above and being listening at 35:15 and he finishes his Gospel presentation at the 47:35 mark.

Pastor Adam’s (a local church pastor in LA who has been leading Kanye in Bible study) faithful proclamation of the Gospel includes both Law & Gospel, both faith & repentance, and it all hinges upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Praise God!

Has Kanye West been regenerated? Is he a joint-heir with Jesus? Is he genuinely converted or is this all just a publicity stunt? I don’t know; I sure hope so! Kanye is waaaaaaaay outside of my circle of influence and I’m not writing or rejoicing in Kanye. I’m rejoicing in the fact that “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16) is being faithfully proclaimed in the moment and countless thousands, maybe millions, of people are hearing it like I did on the internet; to the praise of God’s glory!

Indeed, God is redeeming a people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” and as it appears, he’s using Kanye West to do it. Again, words I never even dreamed of stringing together in a coherent sentence but here we are and God has done it.

I know absolutely nothing about Kanye, his heart, his motives, his marriage, his family, his faith, or his “Sunday Service” but I know that “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

Just a Cog

It seemed like day after day the Lord continued to remind me that I am but a cog in the machine of His incomprehensible plan. This was my most recent experience in the jungle of Peru; let me explain:

I have been afforded, by God’s grace, the greatest “job” in the entire world. Often times, my heart is torn between missions and pastoral ministry but recently our little country church has partnered with one American missionary and an evangelical seminary in Peru to plant a church in an under-reached region in the Amazonian high-jungle of Peru. This has given me the joy of proclaiming Christ both at home and abroad.

After an exploratory trip in July of 2018 where the Lord united us with a Peruvian church planter, pastor, and Bible translator, we began the work in September. It was February/March of 2019 when the Lord allowed me to see just a glimpse of what He is doing.

God Brought More to the Work, Even When We Thought We Were Alone

After inviting some churches in the States to join us in this endeavor, we received no response. Needless to say, we were disappointed but our Elders and congregation believed we had discerned the Lord’s will rightly and we pressed on. But it wasn’t until we arrived for our first night of services that the Lord allowed me to see just a glimpse of what He had been doing.

For a fledgling church of 16 believers (mostly new converts), 70-80 people at our first night of worship services was a little surprising. “Had the community come out in force to see what was going on? Had the Lord saw fit to grow their number since my last report? Where did all these people come from?”

In spite of my perceived failures in raising up an army of local churches from the U.S. to join us in this work, the Lord had already raised up an army of Peruvian churches. What a joy to worship Christ with brothers and sisters from five different Peruvian churches, some local and some from hundreds and hundreds of miles away,  who were all invested in making Christ known! We were not alone in the work; God was raising up churches in both North and South America to declare the glories of Christ!

God Provided, Even Where We Didn’t Know We Had Needs

It was incredible to see; really. The Lord provided medical staff, Spanish speakers, and evangelists for our team that we didn’t know we needed; both from the States and from Peru.

Through no effort on our part, the Lord provided additional medical support for our team that we thought would be a “bonus.” Turns out, we desperately needed the extra American and our medical mission would have treated, at least, 50% less people than we were able to were it not for her.

The Lord also provided an additional Peruvian pastor and his wife to help share the Gospel with the community and our patients that we didn’t know we would need. The community’s response to the medical campaign left us without adequate support in sharing the Gospel; the whole purpose of coming. But God knew what we did not and provided for our needs before we knew they were ever there.

And on top of that, a last minute addition to the team came by way of an OB who is a Peruvian national that had been praying for years that God would allow her to serve alongside of her husband, one of our translators, on the mission field. She added medical expertise without the need of a translator, inside help with pharmacies, and also a joy in the Lord that was irreplaceable helping to make our time serving the Lord that much sweeter. Turns out, we were an answer to her prayers and she was answer to ours. Isn’t God good?

God Has Healed, Even Where We Didn’t Know Healing Was Needed

It was here where I saw God’s supernatural work more than anywhere. Our national pastor and his wife (both of whom are in their 70’s) left their farm, their home, and their family to take the Gospel where it was not being proclaimed. With no home, no income, and no church they left everything to take the Good News to those who desperately need it.

This uncommon faith caused a fracture in their family. Some of their children supported and encouraged them and others thought it too risky and foolish at their age. Satan saw a foot-hold and seized the opportunity to sow division and strife in a family committed to the glory of God. They wept holding their faces in their hands and they poured their hearts out to us.

But through local, national, and international support God provided for the pastor and his wife. Today, the Lord has provided a home, a modest income, support in ministry and most importantly new life in Christ in the community. It is through God’s obvious provision and faithfulness that the family has been reconciled and the Lord has brought restoration and healing in a once fractured family.

In short, God is doing more than we thought. He’s doing more than we knew. But, in His grace, He has allowed us/me just a glimpse into what He’s doing and I cannot but stand back, admire His glory, and worship.

I’m just a cog in the machine of God’s glory but every once in a while the Maker opens up the machine, takes a peak inside, and shows this cog just how beautiful He is and it makes me want to “cog a little better.”

Pray for Peru. Pray for Lamas. Pray for Pastor Alfonso and Norma. Pray for Eldred Baptist Church. And finally, pray for me.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Jesusless Testimony

The title of this post is hard to type, let alone hear.

For a follower of Christ, having been born of the Spirit (John 3), having been given a new heart and new spirit—His Spirit—(Ezekiel 36), having been adopted as God’s son/daughter according to His gracious foreordination (Ephesians 1) through faith (Galatians 3), and having been secured by the faithfulness of an immutable God (2 Timothy 2), to share a testimony that is void of the One, namely Jesus Christ, who made this possible seems like an oxymoron and yet this has been my observation of late.

Even the above statement, full of bibliocentric, theological richness is neglectful of proclaiming the simplicity of the Gospel. Let’s begin with some basics…

What is a Testimony and What is Its Purpose?

The New Testament uses the word “testify” or “testimony” (or one of its derivations) thirty-five times (ESV). In everyone of those times the same Greek root, martus”, is used. It simply means “to confirm or attest to something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness.”[1] We would call the one who is testifying a “witness.”

So it should be no surprise to hear Jesus tell his disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my [martus]” (transliteration added).

Witnesses testify. Period.

But of what? Look at these examples of martus from the book of Acts:

Acts 10:42—Peter said, “And [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead.”

Acts 18:5—“…Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

Acts 23:11—“…the Lord stood by [Paul] and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify also in Rome.”

Acts 28:23—“…From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus…”

Jesus, his divine identity, his sinless perfection, his substitutionary, sacrificial, atoning death, his triumphant resurrection, and his promise to save from eternal death by giving eternal life to all who come to God through Him is the fundamental message of which we have been called to testify of as witnesses. Without this message there is no salvation from God’s wrath upon the sinner. This is the Good New of which we testify (Romans 10:17).

A Testimony of God’s Salvation through Jesus’ Life & Death

My desire, here, is to point out that one may testify of how terrible their life used to be (drugs, chaos, loneliness, hate, fear) before coming to church (as if these four walls are some sort of magical converter) and then testify about how wonderful their life is now (peace, contentment, joy, friends, freedom) and never share the Jesus who gave them life, righteousness, and peace with God.

What a tragedy it is to have a Jesusless Gospel and Jesusless Testimony because we can’t look past how Christ has changed our lives to see and share the real Treasure, Jesus himself!

Simplicity in Sharing a Jesus-filled Testimony

Mark Dever, in his book “The Deliberate Church”, simplifies the Gospel message into four easy-to-remember words that serves to prevent us from falling into simply sharing the benefits of our salvation and failing to share the Savior.

God—A holy creator and righteous judge who created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever

Man—A rebellious creature who rejected God and sinned against His holy character and law

Christ—Fully God, fully man, sent to die the death we deserved so God might both punish our sin in Christ and forgive it in us

Response—Repent & believe. Sinful man must turn from his sinful ways toward God and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins already committed.[2]

Could it really be that simple; God-Man-Christ-Response? Do all the details of God’s gracious election, my sin-filled past, Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death & victorious resurrection, and what is now required of me and given to me in Christ when I repent and believe fit into this four-word reminder?

Yes. And notice: God is the beginning, Christ is the hero, and the glorious ending brings me back to God. My only contribution to my, now, wonderful victorious life was the sin that made it necessary. Thank you Jesus!

These four little words are ready to be unpacked in their entirety as you share the glories of Christ before a large audience or piece-by-piece as you, over a cup of coffee as the weeks and years pass by, point your listener(s) back to the Christ who saved you! Jesus is the not just the source of your salvation but he is also the subject of your salvation. As J.I. Packer so aptly and succinctly stated, “God saves sinners.” God is the instigator and that actor in our salvation. The only thing we bring is our sin. Jesus is, and must remain, the star of our story!

Christian-When you’re asked to share your testimony make sure that you do more, far more, than testify of how great your life is now; testify of how great your Savior is!

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 617). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Dever, Mark; Alexander, Paul (2005). The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. Wheaton, Il. Crossway.

The Doctrines of Grace in Five Minutes

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few years ago at my former church and at the end of the study a man approached me and said that this was the first time he had heard the doctrines of grace taught in years. Unfortunately, his experience is not a unique one. Growing up and attending church my entire life I can’t recall a time that I was ever taught these truths. It wasn’t until I attended Bible College at Trinity College of Florida that I was introduced to the rich truths of the doctrines of grace. I believe a great deal of people attend church regularly and are never taught these amazing truths.

Allow me to briefly share the doctrines of grace with you.

We must start with God because He is where it all begins. God is sovereign in salvation. That is, salvation belongs to Him (Jonah 2:9) He controls it. The Bible makes it clear that God chose those whom He would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). This election was not a result of any merit within us, but was solely by the grace of God (Romans 9:11-13).

If God were not to initiate a relationship with us we would never come to Him on our own (John 6:44). In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we were dead in our sin and utterly unable to move toward God in our sinfulness (Ephesians 2:1). God had to remove our dead heart and give us a heart that beats for Him (Ezekiel 36:26) or else it would never happen. To come to a saving faith in Christ is all the work of God. He chooses, He calls, He justifies, and He glorifies (Romans 8:30). By His amazing grace, and by His grace alone, sinners are made right with God.

This salvation is extended to many, but not all (Mark 10:45). Christ died for His elect (John 10:11). His blood does not cover universally the sin of all, or else all would be saved, but rather His blood covers only a particular people. These are God’s elect, given to the Son for salvation and they will respond in faith (John 6:37). Those who respond in genuine faith toward Christ will persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

The doctrines of grace ultimately point us to a greater worship of God for what He has done for us through Christ.  We can take absolutely no credit for our salvation. It is completely the work of God on our behalf.  All glory to Him.  All praise is to Him.  All honor is for Him.

Lifestyle Evangelism?

 

Many professing Christians think godly living is all the evangelism others need from us. They misquote St. Francis of Assisi, saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” In actuality St. Francis never said this. The sad reality is that many are quick to find spiritualized statements like this to justify their disobedience to Christ’s command. St. Francis of Assisi actually did comment on this issue though. His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, quoted him saying: “The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.”

That seems more in line with God’s Word.

Scripture is clear that salvation is always connected to the preached Word. James says God, “brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter says we are, “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). In the parable of the four souls, Jesus taught the impossibility of growth apart from sowing the seed of God’s Word (Mark 4). But the clearest Scripture on this is perhaps Paul’s argument in Romans 10. He states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17). Paul’s quadruple “How” question clearly is rhetorical. Paul is saying that without gospel proclamation there can be no justification.”

Godly living is vital, but is insufficient to save a soul from God’s just wrath against sin. Only faith in the message of the Gospel can save. The only hope for the lost is that the saved share the Gospel with them: his sinless life, his substitutionary death, and his victorious resurrection. Those who try to avoid Gospel evangelism are trying to separate the inseparable. The very Greek word euangelion or Gospel is in our word evangelism. Tell people the only message that can save them, and don’t assume people understand it if you don’t share it with them.

Reflections on Billy Graham and Spiritual Heroes

Why did Billy Graham’s life and preaching impact so many thousands of lives? This is a question I have pondered a lot since news broke that he went on to be with the Lord.

The news of Billy Graham’s death came out this week as I was preparing a sermon on Jonah 3. I had been wrestling with the question of why Jonah’s preaching had such a profound impact on the Ninevites when I heard of Billy’s passing. After discovering a few reasons why Jonah’s preaching was “God-timed” for the people of Nineveh, I still knew that only the Spirit of God brings the preached Word of God to bear on sinners. But then I considered other spiritual heroes in recent generations, like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and John Wesley, and the same question struck me. Why did God choose these men as opposed to others? Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, had little effect on his home church, but God used it to spark a nation-wide revival when he preached it in Enfield, Connecticut. Why is it that the people in Enfield were grabbing hold of the pillars of the church, moaning, and crying out, “What must I do to be saved?” but the people in Edwards’ congregation were often laying down horizontally on the pews asleep as he preached?

In my research, I discovered no shortage of reasons from the world’s perspective as to why Edwards’ sermon had such profound impact on early America. One scholar, Edwin Cady, says it was the fresh imagery Edwards used. Another, Lee Stuart, says it was the element of comfort after such a long, negative message. Another, Rosemary Hearn, suggests that the logical structure and persuasiveness of Edwards’ sermon made it successful. Yet another says it was Edwards’ references to Newtonian physics and the earth’s gravitational pull that created a feeling of falling among his hearers. Still others say it was Edwards’ use of vivid illustrations which made the listeners feel like they had been transported to hell even as they sat in the church pews. These were all plausible ideas, but something about them rang hollow and didn’t fully explain the monumental response that followed the preaching.

After reading George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, by Dr. Thomas Kidd last year, I discovered something else interesting: Whitefield’s words and concepts in preaching were not particularly unique or novel. One contemporary of Whitefield remarked that Whitefield could move men to tears simply by repeating the word mesopotamia.’ Whitefield also had one lazy eye that one would think would have lessened his fame, but it did not in the least. John Wesley’s ministry is comparable in many ways to Whitefield’s. This reminds me how the Lord used all the heroes in the “hall of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11. God often uses the simplicity of the preaching and the weakness of the servant to bring all the glory to Himself.

As for Billy Graham, is there any spiritual leader that has had such profound, worldwide acclaim and impacted so many vast numbers of people through his life and preaching since these earlier famous preachers? I was recently given Billy Graham’s autobiography by an elderly widow in our church, and one picture in it shows Billy Graham preaching to over a million people at one time in South Korea in 1973. Perhaps some of Billy Graham’s impact is owing to the fact that he lived in the age of television and jet travel. Nevertheless, anyone who has heard Billy Graham’s preaching can tell you his messages were not anything new. Billy Graham preached the same old gospel that countless other lesser-known heralds have preached. Yet as Billy Graham spoke, his words carried clarity, compassion, and spiritual force unlike any for generations.

While it can be argued that some of the droves of people who descended the bleachers at Graham’s preaching crusades were doing so merely in response to the emotional tug of the music and the zeal of the preacher that day (Graham himself said he wouldn’t be surprised of only 2% who came forward were actually converted that night), this still does not sufficiently explain why Billy Graham did not become just another TV preacher out there with his own little following. He was invited to the White House by many presidents in his day and was esteemed by all for his moral purity and faithfulness to what he believed.

Ultimately, God has not chosen to reveal to us why He uses some men to impact thousands and others only hundreds. But Scripture does tell us that He does so according to His sovereign purposes in the world. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, He explains that some are given more talents than others (Matthew 25:14-30). Then, in Jesus’ parable of the soils, He shares that the crops growing from good soil will produce various amounts: some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some one hundred-fold (Mark 4:8). But God does not tell us specifically why there is a difference in the growth. Instead of telling us why God uses some more than others, He charges each of us to be good stewards of whatever amount of time, gifts, relationships, and resources with which He has entrusted us.

Billy Graham was faithful with his and may we all be faithful with ours. May Paul’s question to the church at Corinth echo in our minds, “What do we have that we did not receive?”

The “Share the Gospel by Your Life” Lie

Enough is enough, really.

Have you heard it? Perhaps you’ve said it. Maybe you’ve even taught it or preached it…“You don’t have to share the Gospel with words. The most powerful Gospel is shown by your actions.” Putting it very simply and plainly, that’s nonsense. And it’s worse than nonsense when it comes from pastors, teachers, and preachers; the ones called & supernaturally equipped by God to take His Word about salvation from His wrath through Christ’s substitutionary atonement and share that Word with a world of people condemned unless they believe the Gospel and repent (Mark 1:15).

The Gospel must be presented with words. The Gospel is only fully presented with words. The Gospel comes from the Word and the Word is powerful & effective (Isaiah 55:11; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12-13).

Paul writes to the Romans that belief comes from hearing and hearing comes through preaching and preachers are sent to do just that, proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation (Romans 10:14-15). And just in case the Romans, and we for that matter, didn’t get it the first time he summarizes those verses and repeats himself in verse 17 when he says, “Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Note that Paul does not say “preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.” Can you imagine if Paul would’ve evangelized the Gentiles with that lie? He’d have been a happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, forgiving, polite, tent maker who never saw a single person saved from their sin and given eternal life.

Yes, we need to live the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ never, and I repeat, never leaves a life unchanged. Yes, you can observe, through actions, a difference between someone who is a Christ follower and someone who is not.

But being kind does not share that Jesus Christ died to pay your sin debt and that he rose from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25).

But being polite does not share that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that no person will ever be in God’s presence unless they come through Christ (John 14:6).

But being joyful does not share that Christ bore in his body your sins and that by his wounds you can be healed (1 Peter 2:24).

But being nice to people does not share that their good works and their best obedience is not the measurement of God’s satisfaction of them and that their best effort will never earn them eternal life (Galatians 2:15-16).

You may be asking, “Where is this blog post coming from? Why the aggression about this topic?” Honestly, I expect this from the world. I expect the world to say things like “don’t worry about telling people about Jesus,” but I don’t hear it from the world, I hear it and read it regularly from the Christian community. Church, and church leaders, we need to stop believing and stop propagating this lie! We need to repent & tell everyone about the forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.

Christian:

“…do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…” (2 Timothy 1:8)

“…what you have heard from me…entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also…” (2 Timothy 2:2).

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

“…the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17).

May you find yourself in the company of Jesus Christ who “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for [he] was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

May you find yourself in the company of the Apostle Paul who was “eager to preach the gospel” to a people he had never met before (Romans 1:15).

And may you find yourself as an answer to Christ’s prayer as he prayed for laborers to harvest God’s people (Matthew 9:38).

Don’t get sucked into the lie that the Gospel is best presented by your way of life. The Gospel is best presented with the Word of God, coming from a life that has been changed by God, bearing witness to the power, love, grace and mercy of God found only in the cross of Christ.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…”—The Gospel of Jesus Christ, from 1 Corinthians 15:3-6

The External Call

When we look at Scripture there are two kinds of calls: the external call (universal /resistible), and the internal call (limited / effectual).

Today I’ll describe the external call. This is addressed to all, “To you, O men, I call; and my cry is to the children of man” (Prov. 8:4). Christ calls all mankind to repentance, faith and holiness. As Michael Horton puts it, “Scripture proclaims the gospel to everyone. In this outward call, Christ delivers Himself to all as the only Savior. Yet only when the Spirit inwardly and effectually draws sinners to Christ do they actually receive the gift announced to them in the gospel.”

Jesus states, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). This speaks of a call much wider than the elect. It is addressed to many, to millions across the world, across every age. It is the call of the gospel: repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. The prophet Isaiah says, “Turn to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is no one else” (Isa. 45:22). Revelation also speaks of this when it ends with, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). 

The Holy Spirit says to all, come and drink of salvation. This first call is the universal call of the gospel from God through men to every human being to come for salvation. Because this call it is external only, it may be resisted and refused. For example Acts 7:51 “You stiffed necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 also, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ and Him crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” When Paul preached he found that some of his hearers accepted and some rejected his message. It is only through the Spirit that makes the gospel irresistible.

The great commission demands we proclaim the gospel. The gospel call is universal but it is resistible until the power of the Holy Spirit makes it Irresistible. The Holy Spirit is what makes it sweet. To be frank there is nothing we can contribute that is effectual. God is the author and He has the power, so He gets the glory always. 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). 

We may get discouraged and impatient not seeing the fruit of faithfully proclaiming the Gospel to our friends and family, but it shouldn’t make us ashamed. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Romans 1:16-17). 
It should give us encouragement and passion to proclaim it even more knowing God is the one to make it effective. 

“Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.” (The Canons of Dort, Head of Doctrine 2, article 5)

On my next blog I’ll be looking at the internal call, that is limited but effectual.

Do We Really Believe in the Bible?

While many of us may have heard this question from someone who doesn’t believe in God or at least not the one presented in Scripture, it is a bit different when it comes from a Christian.

For many in evangelical Christianity this is an argument that has been settled since the mid-twentieth century, and in the SBC it was met by a landslide victory in the 1980’s that solidified the foundation of our faith in the Christ of Scripture. Now when we use the word ‘believe’ we are not talking about salvation, but as the apostle Paul says to Timothy “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-16).

So why has this discussion come back up again? In the last few weeks a prominent Pastor has spoken in 2 different forums and in both case exposed a belief that the Scriptures are a stumbling block to non-believers and as us such we should make them less important to our conversations with them. Instead of focusing on what Scripture says we need to only focus on what Jesus says and making a historical case for His resurrection…in the end is not the Bible that saves anyone it is faith in a resurrected Savior.

To this I would agree, that we’re saved through the work of the Spirit in us leading us to repentance and faith in the one true God, and this faith is not placed in ourselves but in the work of Jesus the Christ who came to earth in the time of Caesar Augustus and was crucified under the governance of Pontius Pilot in Caesarea. But who is this Christ, not who is Jesus, who is Christ? Apart from the rest of Scripture the title means little or nothing. Apart from a belief in the Old Testament prophecies, the covenants handed down from Adam to David, the words of Isaiah of one who would suffer so that we may live, what is it that our belief is founded in?

Now I could spend a lot of time giving an apologetic on the reason we believe the Bible, but that is not my goal today. My goal is to point out a simple flaw in the whole realm of thought that we can somehow jettison the Scriptures for the sake of evangelism.

For those who have read my first two post here and here, the final call of Christ is an important one, but one that encouraged the disciples not to hide from the Scriptures but to embrace them. In Luke 24 while on the road to Emmaus Jesus doesn’t just talk to these disciples about all the cool things that He did on earth and how they should put their faith in Him because of those things. No, He points back to the Old Testament and walked them through how this Jesus who they followed had to be the Messiah because all of Scripture pointed to this moment. He was the fulfillment of all that went before. They were talking to the Son of God and He wanted them to see how He was the fulfillment of scripture, not for them to abandon Scripture. When He appears to the rest of His disciples at the end of the chapter we see that Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures in light of Himself.

So in Jesus’ own words the Scripture must be true and valid, for if they are not then how can we trust that He is the promised one. How could Peter preach in Acts 2 that the day’s prophesized by Joel were coming to pass? The teachings and work of Christ mean little if we do not have the Old Testament, without them we cannot fully understand or appreciate the Christ,. We cannot fully appreciate the long suffering work of God. We cannot fully grasp that God is working all things to His end, in His time table, and that He will bring these things to pass.

Clearly, the Scriptures are essential for our full understanding of God and His Christ, Jesus.

Now then the question will arise ‘Are they necessary for salvation?’ And to that I would ask ‘What are they being saved to?’ The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are a look into the message he came to proclaim: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

What is so interesting is the Gospel we are to believe in is based on the reality of two preceding things, 1) the time is fulfilled, and 2) the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is out of these two things we are called to repent and believe. We don’t repent and believe because we want a ‘better life’ or because we want to feel better about ourselves. We repent and believe because of the conviction of sin and the reality that the time has come and the plan of God is fulfilled in His Son the Christ, who is the foundation of the message Jesus is proclaiming. Our faith is deeper than a prayer, it is more than a moment, it is a life with Jesus the Christ the Son of God who was promised from Genesis 3:15, who visited Joshua before Jericho, who stood beside the faithful in Babylon, and who is the suffering servant portrayed in the book of Isaiah.

So while we would agree the Bible doesn’t save anyone (only God can do that, only the Spirit at work can change a heart of stone to the heart of flesh) we cannot agree that the Old Testament is not a very important part of the Christian faith. It teaches us and points us to the only promised one of God. By it Phillip leads an Ethiopian eunuch to an understanding of Jesus as the one promised in Isaiah 53. By it Stephen makes his defense for his faith before the Jewish religious leaders.

For some this brief article will just seem like semantics, to others it will seem like nit picking, to some maybe it will be another reminder to be clear and concise when speaking about what you believe, but personally listening to the talks this past week and the follow up this week by apologists attempting to clarify (sort of) the view of Scripture that started this whole theological and pastoral pondering, it was a reminder to know what and why we believe.

My faith is in a risen Savior. Who came, suffered, and died as the Word of God declared would take place, and now has risen from the dead 3 days later and ascended to the right hand of the Father as testified to by the apostles. I believe because of the work of Christ in me and I am assured of His love and promises because of His written Word to us, both the Old and the New.

Yes I believe in the Event and in the Words that testify to it. Both before and after its occurrence.

A Caution to All NFL Fans…

NFL

This past Thursday, and really this weekend, was the official beginning of the NFL season for 2015-2016.  Was it just me or did it seem to take a lot longer this year to actually get here?  Any who, I have a caution for all of you NFL fans as the season is now underway.

In Colossians 4:5-6 we read, “Walk is wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

In the original Greek the phrase ‘making the best use of ‘ is only one word and it could be translated as it is here ‘making the best use of’ or ‘to redeem’ or ‘to secure for oneself.’  The meaning is clear: we walk wisely in the eyes of unbelievers when we redeem our time, making the best use of it that we possibly can.  What does it mean to redeem the time?

-To redeem our time is to not waste our time.

-To redeem our time means to seize every chance we’re given to share the gospel with a bold tactfulness.

-To redeem the time means to use all of our time to God’s glory.

-To redeem our time is to fill our lives and our interactions with unbelievers with things of the Kingdom, the gospel, the Scripture rather than things that are trivial.

This means we’re not free to use the time we have to do anything we desire.  We must ask ourselves before doing anything or committing to something, will this activity help me redeem my time, or will this activity make me waste my time?

What does this have to do with the NFL season beginning?  Well, now that it’s football season my household is going to be rooting for the Atlanta Falcons a lot during these next few months.  But, I am convicted by something in Colossians 4:5-6 in regards to my Falcons cheering.  If my neighbors, friends, and family know me just as the guy who cheers for the Falcons and knows nothing of my faith in and love for Christ (the most important thing about me) I’ve done a poor job of redeeming my time with them.  If that’s all they know about me I’ve wasted my time with them, filling our interaction with trivial things, and haven’t made the best use of that time that I could’ve.

The hard lesson for us here is that how we spend our time tells a lot about what we really love.  The harder lesson here is that how we spend our time shows the unbelieving world what we really love.  From watching our lives and hearing our speech, does the unbelieving world around me know only of my devotion for the Falcons, or do they know of my greater and more infinite devotion for Christ and His Kingdom?

Bottom line: the NFL is good…but Jesus is better.

Remember that is the season is now underway.

Must We ‘Earn the Right?’ to Share the Gospel?

It’s a fact that Christians now believe we must earn the right to share the gospel.  Therefore most Christians think of evangelism as starting friendships where the aim is to cultivate trust to the point where a conversation about the gospel would be natural and comfortable.  Is this a Biblical way to think about evangelism?  No, it’s not.

The first time this belief surfaced in black and white was in J.I. Packer’s book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (1961)This book is a foundational document on evangelism, divine sovereignty, and human responsibility.  Besides this one thought, I do think the book is great.  On page 90 Packer says the following:

The right to talk intimately with another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and that you really care about him…we must be justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ and in speaking to them about their own spiritual needs…

I know that many who may read this will instantly think that I’m the one who is wrong to say Packer is wrong here, but hear me out.  This line of thinking that we must ‘earn’ the right to share the gospel, and be ‘justified’ in bringing up the gospel with people makes one error.  It makes the error of being more cultural than Biblical.  Do you see Jesus or any of the apostles earning the right to share the gospel in the Bible?  Did Philip earn the right to intrude on the Egyptian eunuchs reading time to ask him “What are you reading?” (Acts 8) Did Stephen earn the right to share with the people before they stoned him? (Acts 7) Did Paul earn the right to preach to those cities?

The answer to this question, from the Bible, is always the same: no.  Everyone who shared the gospel was more concerned with getting the message of Jesus out than the person’s feelings about being offended by the gospel.  If the Jesus or the apostles were concerned with ‘earning’ the right to share the gospel before they shared, I think the growth of the Church would have been drastically reduced.  Perhaps that’s why we decline and downgrade today?  This is where J.I. Packer, and the many who agree with him on this issue, have uncritically accepted a cultural rule over the Bible.

Don’t hear me saying what I’m not.

I am not saying that friendships are a bad way to share the gospel, they are and should be used and sought after diligently.  I am not saying that we ought to just go out banging people in the head with our Bibles, screaming at them to repent.  I am not saying that evangelism should be done without love, it ought to.

I am saying that I think Packer is wrong to say that sharing the gospel with someone has to be earned.  It does not.  Would it be loving to let a blind man keep walking toward to edge of a cliff?  No, it wouldn’t.  No one in their right mind would ever think upon seeing this, “I cannot go up and tell him he’s going in the wrong direction, I don’t want to intrude on his choices, and besides, we don’t even know each other, how could I tell him to change the path he has chosen to walk on?”  That is absurd to the highest degree, and just like that, today too many Christians view evangelism in the same manner.  “We cannot just go up to people and say their wrong, and that they should repent and turn to Jesus, that would be foolish and offensive.”  Have we forgotten that the message of the cross is ‘foolishness to those who are perishing?’ (1 Cor. 1:18)

We must remember that Jesus never earned the right to share Himself with others, and the apostles never earned the right to share the gospel.  Christians must take up the gospel, as it is, and share it with those around them, in love.  We know their end is hell if they do not repent, and that should move us to share with them and plead with them, IN LOVE, to turn to Jesus while there is still time.

May we never withhold sharing the gospel because we think we have not earned the right to do so.

No messenger of a king bearing the king’s message ever waited to earn his right to share the word from his king.  He shared it, because that was his calling.  So too, all Christians are ambassadors for Christ, and it is our joy to share the gospel with as many as we can.  If Christ has given us approval to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we need not earn another’s approval to share the gospel, the message of the one true King.

This is one place where J.I. Packer has uncritically accepted part of his own culture as Biblical.  Have you done the same?

Evangelism: the Gathering of the Elect

Calvinists are often shunned or frowned upon for placing lots of weight on the doctrines of God’s sovereignty.  One of the critiques is that Calvinistic doctrine does not lead anyone to any kind of evangelistic zeal, or burden to see men come to Christ.  Have you ever heard this kind of thinking?  I have, more often than I’d like to.  I think one reason while so many believe in this ridiculousness is that they are allergic to doctrine.  Upon entering into doctrinal debate with someone, they feel out of place or in over their head which causes a response like, “Is this doing any good?  Why aren’t we sharing the gospel with the lost?”  While some Calvinists certainly do fall into this error and place an unhealthy zeal on doctrinal debate, it is a straw-man argument to lump all Calvinists into the same boat.  I submit that you cannot know what evangelism is or have any hope in sharing the gospel with any pagan, if you’re not a Calvinist.  Here is why:

In Acts 18, Paul is discouraged in Corinth because a group of Jews did not believe his preaching that Jesus was the Messiah sent to save them.  Paul says in 18:6, “Your blood be on your own heads!  I am clean.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  Afterwards Paul went to Titius Justus’ house and then to Crispus’s house, preaching the same Christ, and was amazed that all the households believed; along with many other Corinthians.  Paul seemed to still be discouraged though, as if the stink of what had happened earlier with the Jews was still heavy on him.  God encourages Paul in 18:9-10, “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”  It seems like a usual encouragement from the Lord here.  He makes sure to tell Paul that He is with him always and even promises safety, which Paul did not often have.

But what makes this encouragement so astounding is what God ends with, “for I have many people in this city.”  What does that mean?  Not very many people in Corinth had come to faith in Christ yet.  So how could God say that He had many people in this city?  Is God wrong?  Certainly not!  What then is going on?  It’s because there are elect people within the city of Corinth that God has chosen from before the world began to believe, that have not heard the gospel yet.  God encourages Paul to keep on preaching, because of those people.  This is simply the outworking of Romans 10:14-17 in which it is clearly said that no one comes to faith apart from hearing the gospel.  God was encouraging Paul to be the vessel of salvation for these people who God had chosen from before the foundation of the world, that are now residing in Corinth.  Paul was obviously so strengthened by this word from God that he later encourages Timothy to labor and “endure all things for the sake of the elect, so that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Tim. 2:10)  Paul labored and endured all things for the sake of the elect in Corinth, why?  Because God was using him to gather in His elect.  The sovereignty of God in election gave Paul hope that God’s Word, the gospel, would never return void, but always accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

What does this have to do with evangelism?  How does the sovereignty of God empower us to bring the gospel to the people we live among?  Because we to, along with Paul, have this same encouragement from God.  No matter where we live, we can truthfully cling to the fact that God has chosen people before the world began in our cities, and God has ordained that the gospel be preached to them so they can believe.  We are invited to be the means that God uses to carry out His eternal purposes.

If I did not believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation, I would be so utterly discouraged every time I share the gospel, because if they do not believe, it is my fault.  I did not make it clear enough, wasn’t as persuasive as I could’ve been, or I didn’t try as hard as I should have.  But this isn’t the case.  Knowing that God has chosen people who will come to faith upon hearing the gospel gives me hope in sharing my faith.  It is as if God were taking us fishing and promising a huge catch.

One other thing though, because we do not know who these elect ones are that God has chosen within our cities, we share with everyone.  When people come to faith, we can know for sure, that it’s because they have been chosen from long ago.

I know of no doctrine that leads to a greater evangelistic zeal than the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election.  Take heart, be encouraged, and share the gospel with all people, for God has many people in your city, and upon hearing the gospel, His elect will come to faith.